Thursday, December 20, 2007

Exterior Referb - Part 1

People are superficial! No matter how good your maintenance is or how great your piloting skills are, you are graded on what the plane looks like and your landings! If you read this blog, you'll know that 36G's maintenance is impeccable; however, when someone walks up to her she looks like most other planes. Base white, two colors and two stripes...

36G is a very fine looking plane and I get a lot of comments about how nice the paint looks, but I want her to be unique. It is hard to be unique when it is impossible to differentiate 36G from virtually every other Mooney that was built in the mid-80's...

These are all fine looking 252's that many people would love to own; however, it isn't worthy of 36G's Extreme Makeover project, which is intended to take a very good mid-80's plane and incorporate up to date technology to make it as good, or better, than a new $600K+ plane. One that has Technically Advanced Avionics, one that has a comfortable and modern interior and one that has a state-of-the art paint scheme.

Avionics are fairly straightforward. You basically buy the latest and greatest Garmin and install it! There are some tricks that we will get into later on how to make a comfortable and modern interior, but they are all pretty much the same (leather). The paint scheme, however, is an entirely different story...

What is in a Paint Scheme
Designing a paint scheme is not as easy as it sounds. There are many factors that need to be taken into consideration. First is the airframe. Something that looks good on a King Air isn't necessarily going to look good on a Mooney. The second is designing something on a computer doesn't mean that a paint shop can actually do it. Whatever you come up with has to be do'able in the filed. Finally, the scheme has to be unique and balance from all angles as if the manufacturer did it. The scheme should be unique and flow from end to end without any awkward interruption. Everything including the placards and N-number needs to be included in the design. I couldn't tell you the planes I've seen that have a beautiful paint scheme and the N-number was clearly placed on it later as an afterthought.

Preliminary Thoughts & Background
I have been thinking about a paint design since I conceived the idea of buying a Mooney. I've seen tens-of-thousands of planes in my day. However, when you step back and think about actually designing something it is harder than it sounds. It was very clear that I needed an expert to help compile my ideas into something that can reproduced and will work on a Mooney.

When I started looking at aircraft that had truly unique aircraft designs, it was remarkable at how many of them were created by one shop -- Scheme Designers. And one person, Craig Barnett, their CEO. Craig has been creating aircraft paint scheme designs forever. He has created most of the modern Mooney schemes as well as many other manufacturers.

Craig's work is known throughout the world. If you've ever been to an airport or read virtually any aviation magazine then you have seen one of his designs. He's created practically every unique design I could find. In fact, all of the AOPA giveaway planes are Scheme Designer original designs including this year's AOPA Catch-a-Cardinal.

The process
Selecting the designer to guide me through the process was a "no brainer," but we still have to come up with the design. Craig has some canned designs you can choose form on, but I want 36G to be unique. A canned design is not worthy of our Extreme Makeover!

Unlike a typical artist, Craig does not design the scheme for you. He told me that everyone has different tastes and requirements, which make it impossible for him to simply say "here ya go." For those that want to pick a design and go...he created, which is a site that has over 5000 aircraft designs they have created. If you pay for the custom service, however, you get a truly customized service that starts with a blank sheet of paper...

Craig basically acts as a Muse and guides you through the process. He gets out of you what you want quite effectively. The process is involved, but basically starts out with a phone interview. He records things you like and dislike and then he goes to work building the initial design elements that you tweak as many times as you want until you get what you are going after. They work on a fixed bid and have worked on some designs for years. The speed and quality of the process is ultimately up to you.

Crating a new design is a daunting task. I started by doing research on websites, reviewing air show photos, cutting out advertisements in flying magazines and browsing aircraft for sale sites such as Trade-A-Plane and Controller. The key was to find planes with elements that I like and then explain to Craig what I liked about them. The more photos I sent the better he was able to get a since of what I was going for. It took about a month of emailing and phone conversations before the first designs were presented to me.

Here's a list of some sites I reviewed:
My research created quite a directory of photos of airplanes with comments about what I liked and didn't like as well as some basic design guidelines:
  • I want a design that uses shading and lines to make the plane look long, wide and fast. I have a short body Mooney with small side windows. I want long flowing lines that give the since of speed and scale.
  • I like the use of shading and flowing stripes and ribbons instead of hard straight lines.
  • I like the use of color on the top of the cowl & wing tips, not on the bottom like most.
  • I want to keep the main base colors of the bird (Blue & Maroon), but want to use something other than white as the base coat.
  • The tail of the Mooney is what makes a Mooney a Mooney. I want to highlight it; however, I do not want the standard swoop that everyone is doing now days (the half circle from bottom to top). This looked nice at first, but it is a design too easy to replicate and everyone is doing it.
  • I would like to incorporate the Mooney Logo (old eagle not new one). I also want to incorporate the Turbo 252 TSE" name into the scheme.
  • Whatever we do needs to be unique, but something that mainstream buyers would appreciate if we sell some day.
After sharing my comments with Craig, the Scheme Designers Team went to work on the design. Next time I'll show you some of the initial designs and more details on how we tweaked them to get it to the final product.

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